Tuesday, August 13, 2013

How to pray {with a little help from Martin Luther}

Have you ever tried to start an exercise programme after a long break from physical activity of any kind?

It's usually January of any given year for me.  I start by throwing off the layer of Lindt ball wrappers that over Christmas can be found surrounding me at any given moment.  This is followed with a determined waddle into Target whereby I purchase a new pair of runners, an ill-advised lycra outfit and an exercise DVD that is "guaranteed" to tighten, shred & pummel me into shape.

 That first session is a killer.  I'm left red-faced, sweating, nauseous and generally demoralised with the words "YEAH, GET SOME!!" ringing in my ears.  A stranger in a strange land.  It is unfamiliar, uncomfortable and awkward.  Why is something that looks so straight forward, and something that so many others seem to do so effortlessly {and with apparent enjoyment!} so hard for me?

This is how getting your prayer life on track can feel.  Especially if it's been a while.  You can get a burst of motivation {or guilt} and determine to get your prayer life more disciplined.  You vow to make regular, consistent time.  Purchase a popular devotional which is guaranteed to totally change your life.  Perhaps you'll even lash out on a cute notebook in which you will start a prayer journal.  {When I say "you" of course, I totally mean "me"}.  Then, just like the exercise DVD's and lycra, after an initial burst of activity they get used a little less often, with a little less passion and before you know it, you're back to a lukewarm prayer life.

Maybe you've prayed fairly regularly in the past and felt you were in "the zone" and for no particular reason you feel you've dropped back a little.  Perhaps you're nursing a hurt that is making God feel a long way away.  Maybe you're just too darned tired by the end of the day to talk to anyone in full sentences.

Here's some encouragement.....

Read any theologians and they will all eventually address, somewhere in their writings, their struggle with prayer.   I guess if it's good enough for C.S. Lewis & Martin Luther, it's only realistic to expect that we too will experience a few hiccoughs in our prayer life.

{this landscape reminded me of times of spiritual challenge - full of God's hope like the sun rising on the horizon on a new day, but the immediate landscape, vast and barren directly in front of me}

Conveniently for us, Martin Luther's barber was struggling in his prayer life {hairdressers just give on so many levels don't they?} and wrote to him asking how to pray effectively.  Martin Luther responded with a 40 page letter.  Yikes.  The last two pages of which contain his famous four step meditation and prayer process.

Luther advised meditation on the scriptures before starting to pray.  If, for example, he was meditating on the Ten Commandments,  he writes "I divided each commandment into four parts, as I form a garland of four strands."

That is, he thought of each commandment as:

1. Instruction - what is the Lord God commanding of me so earnestly?
2. Thanksgiving - how am I thankful for this instruction in my life?
3. Confession - where have I failed to meet His expectations?
4. Petition - to keep faithful to His commandments and protect me from temptation.

Martin Luther put it this way:
  1. He firsts states his instruction; “here I consider that God expects and teaches me to trust him sincerely in all things and that it is his most earnest purpose to be my God.”
  2. He then turns the commandment into a thanksgiving; “I give thanks for his infinite compassion by which he has come to me in such a fatherly way and unasked, unbidden, and unmerited, has offered to be my God, to care for me, and to be my comfort, guardian, help and strength in every time of need.”
  3. Luther, then confesses his sins regarding this area; “ I confess and acknowledge my great sin and ingratitude for having so shamefully despised such sublime teachings and such a precious gift throughout my whole life, and for having fearfully provoked his wrath by countless acts of idolatry.”
  4. Finally he petitions to God; “preserve my heart so that I shall never become forgetful and ungrateful, that I may never seek after other gods or other consolation on earth or in any creature, but cling truly and solely to you, my only God.”

This outline also dovetails AMAZINGLY with what the very first Psalm asks of us.

We can fill our days with so many activities, striving to provide loving service and opportunity to our family, friends and the community.  As we should.  However, it's refreshing and encouraging to note what this Psalm says about being a Godly man or woman:

Psalm 1: 1-3:

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,

but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,

    and who meditates on his law day and night.

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,

    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither
    whatever they do prospers.

So encouraging! It doesn't say that to be a Godly man or woman you have to fill your life with good deeds or evangelise each and every person you meet, leading them to the Lord before lunchtime.  It encourages us that a Godly man or woman takes "delight" in His law and meditates on it.  

If we do this, we will yield fruit in season {note the use of the word season - to everything a season - yay!} and we will not wither.  The streams of life-giving water which flow from the word will refresh us, invigorate us and protect us so we can prosper in all our endeavours which God has set before us.  


For me at least, I think, this means that reaching for the bible, before I reach for any fancy devotionals or notepads should be my first stop.  Of course, I can still pray if my bible isn't handy.  However, if I'm really struggling to focus or feeling lonely in prayer, the bible and the Holy Spirit are there for my comfort and guidance.  This also guarantees to keep my heart and soul on what God's plans for me are, rather than my own usually flawed interpretation.

I can't help but think what would happen if my children understood the importance of my meditating on the word and how they will ultimately benefit from my new found patience, strength and generally virtuous mothering.  Imagine them forcing me to sit in the most comfortable chair, with a blanket, a notebook, the bible and supplying me an endless supply of cups of tea!  Bring it on!

Here are some handy links for our prayer life:

{It's true.  There is indeed an app for everything}

Here's the link {click}

One to help you keep a record of your blessings:

Here's the link {click}

If you need to tap into different versions of scripture biblegateway.com can't be beaten.
If it's been a long night and an early morning with the demands of children, I find that I really need "The Message" version.  I can't be dealing with thee's and thouest's on five hours sleep.

Much love,
Meredy xo

p.s.  if you have any questions, don't be afraid to drop me a line in the comments section.

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